The game, ProDriver E-Learning, is available free on Operation Lifesaver's website, and takes about 15 minutes to complete. Following a brief introduction, the game takes drivers through a variety of cartoony real-world scenarios: crossing tracks in the vehicle and on foot, dealing with distractions etc. At one point, a handsome member of the public lifts up a flashing barrier and entices you to driver through - don't do it!
Actually, I did it, just to see what would happen. I didn't go out in a hellish cartoon fireball, but was instead directed to a screen with news clippings detailing my tragic fate.
The "game" is pretty straightforward: Make your way through a number of scenarios, and remember to do things like look both ways, and turn off the radio so you can listen for approaching doom. A driver probably won't spend hours on it, but OLI hopes the simple interactivity will help drivers better remember what to do.
"Before we had the game, we had video scenarios," said Marmie Edwards, VP of communications at OLI. "But with E-Learning, if the driver is doing it himself, he'll take it more to heart."
Put differently: It's easy to fall asleep watching a grainy instructional video in a dark room. Clicking buttons is more fun. (By the way, you can turn the CB on and off, and there are several radio stations.)
The game was put together with consultation from both the truck side and the railway side. Drivers from Maverick and Walmart had input.
"We wanted to address the problems that drivers actually have," said Edwards. She added the game is better than coming at drivers with a big stick. "[Saying] 'don't' doesn't work."
So far, more than 15,000 drivers have tried the game out with generally positive feedback. Edwards said a number of trucking companies are assigning the game to new drivers, which is exactly what OLI wants. That way, the organization can reach as many people as possible, and hopefully prevent as many accidents as possible.
Right now the game is only directed truck drivers. Interestingly though, Edwards said trucks train crashes account for only about 25% of the total truck-vehicle incidents. However, given the size of Class 8, the severity of accidents when they do occur tends to be more severe.
"There is much more opportunity for fatality," she said.
It is difficult to tell how effective the tool might be. Edwards mentioned that since the game was released a few months ago, there have 14 truck-train collisions, including one in Reno that claimed six lives including the driver. However, as with other safety issues in the industry, it's good to remember that things are still safer than ever.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, accidents have fallen nearly 80% since 1981. Edwards chalks the steady decline up to better engineering, crossing improvements, better safety enforcement, and of course, better education.
There were 810 fatalities in 2010, so there's plenty of room for improvement. It's something the industry and the public needs to continually chip away at - If chipping away is a little more fun now, all the better!